The juxtaposition between sophisticated beauty and absurd crassness in Corpse Flower is so jarring that listening to this album is at once deeply enjoyable, confounding, and hilarious. It’s a collaboration between Mike Patton (Faith No More, Fantômas, Tomahawk, Mr. Bungle et al.) and Jean-Paul Vannier, a septuagenarian legend of French pop. The pair met while performing a tribute to Serge Gainsbourg.
Unlike Mondo Cane, Patton’s 2010 exploration of vintage Italian pop, there’s nothing traditional about these songs. The contradictions begin with the title—a corpse flower is a massive, colorful plant with the scent of a rotting corpse (or, as Patton says on the title track, “Soft petals, rotten flesh, sweet sick perfume…come and get it”). Romantic melodies and sweeping string orchestration are paired with moments of explosive atonality and lyrics such as “When I drink too much, I shit my pants.” Opener “Ballade C.3.3.” places excerpts from Oscar Wilde’s bleak Ballad of Reading Gaol over a cool, low-slung groove. And “A Schoolgirl’s Day” is ominous yet completely innocent, with Patton’s growling vocals depicting, literally, a schoolgirl’s day (“8:30 at school, she learns grammar, history, and geography… 11:30 she goes home for lunch… 3:15 during the break, she plays in the playground, walks up and down with the other girls”). Nothing is quite right on Corpse Flower, but that's how it's supposed to be.